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CITY REPORT
Dessau Bauhaus Legacy
By Patricia Harris and David Lyon

Over the years, the term “Bauhaus” has become a kind of shorthand for unornamented modern design. It is easy to forget that it originally referred to a small school in Germany. Founded in 1919, it lasted only 23 years, but in that time, its faculty and students revolutionized design and architecture.

First established in Weimar, the Bauhaus moved to Dessau in 1925. Walter Gropius, the school’s first director, designed the main building there, a seminal example of modern design. With its signature glass curtain wall and massive interlocked cubes, the building has long been a destination for artists, architects, designers and historians. But eight decades of socio-political tumult had taken their toll. Now a 10-year, $24 million restoration completed in December 2006 has returned the building to the look and feel of the Bauhaus’s most creative years, and drawn renewed attention to the legacy of Bauhaus architecture embedded in the city.
The school was founded “to create a new guild of craftsmen,” wrote Gropius in his opening manifesto, “without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.” He set out to make aesthetic functionalism a template for socially responsible design, breaking with the Romantic notion of the artist as isolated genius to champion instead the artist as engaged citizen designing for the public good.

The chance to put that philosophy into practice came when the increasingly conservative Weimar regional government withdrew support from the Bauhaus in 1925. Several cities offered the school a new home. Dessau, then a growing industrial center roughly 80 miles southwest of Berlin, was ultimately the most persuasive: the city traded funding for a new campus, to be designed by Gropius, for the involvement of Bauhaus talent in urban planning, including the design of affordable homes for low-income workers.
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